Saturday, 21 February 2009

Aces High

A modern take on the young flyer of the First World War is provided in Aces High which starts at an English Public School with the Headmaster reminding of the Crusades, the Armada and that the importance of playing the game for the games sake! The head of house is Malcolm McDowell who has joined the new Army Air Force and he expresses the wish that the war will not be over before his fellow pupils are able to join in. There are shots of him with his parents and girlfriend. He is confident to the point of being arrogant and has the world before him

The scene switches to a couple of years later when one of the adoring young men at school where McDowell was head of house arrives at an airfield in France when Dowell is the Squadron Leader. He is revealed as the brother of McDowell’s fiancée. McDowell needs a constant flow of alcohol to get in a plane and to undertake the responsibility of sending a regular flow of new recruits to meet their deaths. Another young officer played by Simon Ward has lost his nerve and threaded to desert if Simon cannot find a way to get home on medical grounds. The staff officer is played by Christopher Plummer as someone who is part of the Public school upper class world of Edwardian England who tries to maintain standards amidst the horror.

This is reflected when after McDowell shoots down a plane where the pilot survives, he claims him for 24 hours to mark his survival and give him a party before going into captivity, in a scene reminiscent of the film of Colonel Blimp in which a capture German officer known to Blimp before the war is invited to dine at his club on parole.
The new pilot survives his first flight and then is taken by Dowell to the French front line to collect the German pilot and this provides the opportunity to bring home the reality of the war which the three 1939-1945 films do not. There is a crocodile of men blinded by mustard gas, medical staff covered in blood and a [padre attending to the dying and the dead,
An aged Ray Milland and Trevor Howard play staff officers at the HQ who need to know if a gap in photograph recognisance is a natural hill or a fortified position and decide a photograph must be taken although a continuous bombardment and counter bombardment of the big guns is taking place in advance of an assault to gain ground. The potential cost is calculated with the loss of a pilot or two against that of several hundred or men if they advance and find the hill is a concrete gun emplacement. When at HQ to get the orders McDowell asks about the issuing of parachutes he is told that the request is rejected because it would likely get in the way of the pilots using their initiative to protect the plane.
On a subsequent mission a pilot jumps to his death rather than stay in plane when it is on fire. The senior officers chat about Lloyd George having a bedroom next to the Cabinet Office with a separate entrance to entertain his lovers.
On the photography mission Christopher Plummer is killed although he manages to take the required photos with the plane piloted by the new recruit who is much affected by the death. The squadron is then required to attack spotting balloons and during this mission the brother in law to be gets his first kill and then accidentally crashes into an enemy fighter coming in the opposite direction. At least he has had a night out with his comrades at a local French Inn frequented by ladies of good virtue one of whom takes the young man to her home. McDowell is then seen greeting three fresh faced recruits while he tries to write a letter to the parents of his fiancée. This is most realistic of the four films and released in the mid 1970’s when feelings about the war had began to soften and a new generation had grown up without any knowledge

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